Hi, it’s your regular blogger’s daughter again, with a word about the South’s favorite bread product, biscuits.
Several years ago, when I hadn’t been dating my now-husband for very long, I brought him and his daughter (then about four) along with me to a traditional family holiday breakfast at my now-late great-grandfather’s house. Since I can remember, my mom’s side of the family gathered during the holidays for breakfast at Papaw’s house, a tradition that only ceased with his passing at the age of 98. Christmas breakfast meant piles of country ham (in his younger days, Papaw would season and smoke the hog himself), sausage, eggs, grits, gravy and biscuits – you know, your standard Southern breakfast. I directed my then-boyfriend and his daughter to the buffet line, and heard her little voice piping up asking “What’s this?”, as she pointed at a biscuit.
“It’s a biscuit,” I said.
She looked at me doubtfully.
“You can put butter or gravy or jelly on it, or make a little sandwich with the ham or sausage,” I said.
She looked at me like I was crazy.
You see, the dear child is half Hoosier, and apparently in her short life had never had a biscuit. We fixed that right away.
I’d known before then that biscuits are a cultural marker. During my year living in Washington, D.C., I was comforted to find that the cafeterias on Capitol Hill served fluffy biscuits in the mornings. I also knew that in my brief forays into the Northeast, I’d found that even down-home diners considered toast to be an adequate breakfast bread; they had never heard of biscuits, and wanted nothing to do with them. Biscuits mean the South, and they mean home. They’re something you make into a quick sandwich to eat before Sunday School, or something that you slather butter on when they’re so hot out of the oven that they burn your fingers. While they may occasionally come out of a can or the freezer case when time is short, the best biscuits are made from scratch and love, rolled with your Mimi’s rolling pin, and cut with a jelly jar on the kitchen counter.
With all this talk about biscuits, you might think that I have fond memories of making them from scratch as a child. Well, um, no. We were Bisquick people at the most, Pillsbury can people when in a hurry. What can I say? The Eighties were hectic.
So now, at the age of 33, I have set out to learn to make really darn good biscuits. I want them to be fluffy, buttery, and just barely golden brown on top. They need to have proper spring, and a bit of flakiness, and be the perfect vehicle for a piece of country ham (not city ham, thank you. They are different. That is another blog post altogether). I’ve surveyed Southern friends around my age, asking for their favorite recipes. I’ve studied America’s Test Kitchens, and the Junior League cookbook. Somewhere, I know there is a perfect biscuit recipe, and I’m going to find it. The leading contender so far is actually the recipe printed on the back of the White Lily flour (which I buy at the local grocery, but elsewhere in the country is sold by Williams-Sonoma in tiny packages as a gourmet item).
My stepdaughter has come around to biscuits, by the way, and now loves them. In fact, she’s not bad at making them herself, using her mom’s recipe (which I’m sure is fine, but I like to DIY this kind of thing, so I’m hunting for my own method).
Interesting side note: my husband, who hears about such things, informs me that biscuits are now trendy outside of the South. Apparently the rest of the country is just now discovering them, and as usual they’re going to turn them into some kind of crazy fusion cuisine insanity, as people tend to do with a lot of traditional foods. But thank you, I do not need chipotle sriracha shallot biscuits. I’ll take the ones I have eaten my entire life. With a dab of butter or a slab of country ham. As God intended them to be.